Simeon Tegel Thursday 08 December 2011
An investigation into whether Alberto Fujimori’s government carried out mass forced sterilisations in the 1990s has been reopened
Victoria Vigo shows no flicker of emotion as she recounts how she discovered – by chance – that she had been surgically sterilised against her will. Heavily pregnant, she was admitted to a public hospital in the city of Piura, on Peru’s northern coast, in April 1996 to undergo a Caesarian section. Within hours of the procedure, her ailing new-born child had died and Ms Vigo, 32 at the time, was being consoled by two doctors.
“I was exhausted and just wanted to go home,” Ms Vigo says. “The doctors were trying to comfort me and one told me I was still very young and could have more children. But then, afterwards, I overheard them talking and the other said that it would not be possible for me to conceive as he had sterilised me.”
Not only had Ms Vigo never given her permission for the procedure. The doctor had omitted it from her clinical records and failed to inform her. “I felt totally violated and brutalised. I still cannot understand what motivated him,” Ms Vigo says. “He sterilised me and then hid the evidence. I could have tried for years to have another child without even knowing I could never conceive.”
Doubly traumatised, Ms Vigo went home without confronting the doctor. But she eventually sued him and, in 2003, won damages of approximately £2,000. During the trial, Ms Vigo says, the doctor claimed that he had been following instructions and that the practice of sterilising patients – with or without their knowledge or consent – was standard among Peru’s public healthcare providers.
That allegation may now finally be tested in court, after Peru’s Attorney General last month reopened an investigation into the alleged forced sterilisations during the government of Alberto Fujimori, President from 1990 to 2000, who is currently serving a 25-year prison term for embezzlement and directing death squads during the crackdown against the Maoist Shining Path.
The investigation will look at the entire issue of forced sterilisations while focusing on one sample case, of Mamerita Mestanza, a 33-year-old, Quechua-speaking mother-of-seven, from the Andean region of Cajamarca. She died in 1998 from complications from sterilisation surgery that health officials allegedly harassed her into accepting.
According to human rights groups, there may have been as many as 300,000 victims, overwhelmingly women, the majority of them poor and often indigenous, Quechua-speakers with limited Spanish. “They were the weakest and most vulnerable,” says Ms Vigo, whose case remains the only one to have reached the courts in Peru.
According to the New York-based Centre for Reproductive Rights, Fujimori’s Peru is one of only two instances of forced sterilisations being adopted as state policy since the Third Reich.